By Meghan Hall
Genuine, crafted, exquisite: Those were the three guiding principles settled on by San Francisco-based Dandelion Chocolate and Gensler nearly four years ago when the team began building out the chocolate maker’s new headquarters in San Francisco’s bustling Mission District. Completed in March after several phases of work, the 28,105 square foot space encompasses not just chocolate manufacturing facilities, but tour and education zones, a chocolate salon, retail and a professional pastry kitchen.
“Everything we did needed to measure up to those three words,” said Chris Harrelson, design director at Gensler. “They didn’t want a false factory; they wanted a modern-day expression. They needed to scale up while still keeping the crafted style they built the company around.”
The goal, according to Harrelson and Dandelion’s co-founder, Todd Masonis, was to both find and design a space that would reflect Dandelion’s values and its approach to the creation and crafting of chocolate.
“What it means to be a chocolate-maker as opposed to a chocolatier is that we actually get cocoa beans and make chocolate, while chocolatiers typically work with chocolate but buy it as an ingredient,” explained Masonis. “We buy beans from all over the world, bring them to San Francisco and do all processing in-house.”
The project kicked off several years ago, when the project team began searching for the building that would house Dandelion’s new production facilities. The company’s first location, located on Valencia St., was just several thousand square feet, which Dandelion quickly outgrew after opening in 2010.
“The moment we opened, we were basically maxed out in terms of space,” acknowledged Masonis. “We’ve spent the last four years searching for and designing a space that will allow us to grow.”
In its search for the perfect property, Dandelion hoped to find a previous maker or industrial space with unique character. Additionally, Dandelion specifically wanted to stay within San Francisco, close not just to its original Valencia St. location but to the tradition of chocolate production established by big names, such as Ghirardelli and Recchiuti, within the city.
“San Francisco has always been a chocolate city. There’s been a really cool history of companies based here, and so we feel like we are part of that tradition,” said Masonis. “But the thing is that all of those companies eventually moved out of the city, because it was too expensive to do production [there]. We’re committed to being here and doing production in San Francisco. It’s nice to have a landmark building that is iconic and big and beautiful. We hope it becomes part of the landscape.”
The building Dandelion settled on, located at 2600 16th St., was originally constructed in 1912 and was zoned by the City as Production, Distribution and Repair (PDR) space. Its previous owner, attempting to adhere to the PDR designation, had completely stripped the building, revealing its original, historic bones. And, just six blocks from Dandelion’s Valencia St. shop, the property’s location was ideal.
“It is just about as perfect as you can get, location-wise, building-wise,” said Masonis.
“The first thing I thought about was an art gallery,” added Harrelson. “It is so pure in its architectural expression. It is minimal but historical and really, absolutely gorgeous. An architect’s challenge, when we get these older buildings, is not to cover up the visual strength of the building. We went to great lengths to maintain the original qualities of the building.”
Gensler’s design transformed the 107 year-old-structure into Dandelion’s new headquarters. Exposed timber, master-quality masonry, brickwork and high ceilings provided the basis and authenticity for the chocolate factory’s design. Additional details from the building’s stone entry to hand-painted wood paneling, 4-pane glass windows and hand-made tiles from Morocco are meant to reflect the careful crafting and values of Dandelion Chocolate.
A jewel-box salon with communal tables arranged under a unique chandelier, plus beveled antique and glass finishes provide space for visitors to congregate, taste and purchase Dandelion’s products. The salon, said Harrelson, was inspired by pier buildings along the Embarcadero, many of which house smaller wood-framed shops and offices inside the structures of the pier buildings themselves.
The goal, said Harrelson and Masonis was to highlight the building’s already-existing architecture while emphasizing the property’s use as a small-batch chocolate factory.
“We had to figure out ways to elevate the existing architecture within an industrial aesthetic,” said Harrelson. “Even the [production] equipment started to look architectural, because it was within the palette of materials due to its true nature as a food production facility. The equipment adds to the design.”
Gensler and Dandelion worked to keep the space as open as they could, with as much of the original building and chocolate production process on display as possible. Dandelion’s second location will open to the public at the end of April.
“I think we did a good job of putting everything on display,” said Masonis. “It was really important to us that the space not be fake. We’re actually making chocolate. It’s not an experiential museum. It’s an actual chocolate facility that we’re inviting people into, so I think that added to the complexity because everything needs to be functional. However, I think that’s what makes the space special, is that there is something real happening there.”